pressure

A pastor’s wife’s story

The following story was posted on August 3, 2016, on the website ThomRainer.com.

Please allow me to share my feelings about the last many yearlovedepart_couplesad_sadlove_badrelations of being a pastor’s wife. I tried on many occasions to talk to my husband about it (loneliness, neglect, wanting at least one evening a week together, lack of dating, etc.). We’ve gone to
marriage seminars, talked to mentor ministry couples, and, still, things don’t change.

He never schedules time for investing in our marriage and works all week in the office and then up all night on Saturdays getting his sermon ready. He leaves early Sunday mornings for preparations for the service and, by the time he gets home in the afternoon, he’s exhausted and definitely doesn’t feel like doing anything active or fun with the kids and me. He just wants to veg out on the couch.

When I try to talk about my feelings, I’m “complaining” and not “following the call for my life.” I’m so tired of the cycle of neglect, loneliness, rejection, and hurt that I hate going to church, don’t read my Bible anymore, and have to fight thoughts of divorce every single day. The church definitely feels like his mistress. I’m so hopeless and feel that I’m trapped. The one place I should be able to turn to, the church, is what is killing me on the inside.

If anyone has a recommendation for a fair and reasonable counselor…who is used to working discreetly with people in my and my husband’s position, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m down to my last resort before bailing.

The Greatest

A certain well-known mega-church pastor is quoted as saying that his church “is the greatest church in the world.”

I can’t imagine saying that.

I love my church and all, but it’s not the greatest church in the world. It’s pretty messed up, actually. We make mistakes, we don’t love the Lord as much as we should, we don’t love one another or people in our community as much as we should. I can imagine lots of greater churches than mine.

One of my church’s biggest problems is right here: I’m one of its pastors. I have a long way to go. I don’t have it all together, and neither do my fellow pastors. Elders, deacons, small group leaders, etc.: we’re all “weak and wounded, sick and sore,” as hymnwriter Joseph Hart said.

Look, if we’re going to ‘survive ministry,’ one of the things we pastors need to stop doing is evaluating ourselves, our churches, and each other by things like buildings, attendance, money, programs, music, geographical location, and such. The arrogance! My goodness, churches aren’t competing against each other! We’re competing against the idols of the day, all the things that capture people’s hearts and draw them away from the living God.

Every church where the Word of God is preached, the sacraments are administered, and discipline is practiced is a dearly-loved, blood-bought manifestation of the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Statements like “my church is the greatest church in the world” only serve to discourage faithful ministers of the gospel and stoke the pride of people whose trust is in the wrong place.

OK, so maybe this pastor was simply trying to rally the troops or encourage his congregation. Still, it repulses me. If he’d said, “The church of Jesus Christ is the greatest church in the world,” I could get behind that. But neither a pastor nor his congregation can sustain the pressure of being “the greatest church in the world.” One of these days, the truth will seep out. Someone will fall. Then what?

Perhaps then that pastor will announce, “Jesus is the greatest Savior in the world.”

Identity

For a long time, I got my sense of identity from having a successful ministry. Sunday morning attendance figures, compliments (“Great sermon, pastor!”), a calendar filled with appointments, money streaming in, baptisms… these were the metrics by which I judged my effectiveness and the blessing of God.

Then I failed.

And along with bodies in the pews and bucks in the offering plate, my joy in ministry plummeted. I had built my sense of identity on the unsteady sand of success rather than the unchanging love of God.

Do you know who you are? The Apostle John’s answer is: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

Maybe you need to hear these words from Henri Nouwen as much as I do, every day:

During our short lives the question that guides much of our behavior is: “Who are we?” Although we may seldom pose that question in a formal way, we live it very concretely in our day-to-day decisions. The three answers that we generally live–not necessarily give–are: “We are what we do, we are what others say about us, and we are what we have,” or in other words: “We are our success, we are our popularity, we are our power.” It is important to realize the fragility of life that depends on success, popularity, and power. Its fragility stems from the fact that all three of these are external factors over which we have only limited control… Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity–an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: “You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.”…Our true identity is that we are God’s children, the beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.[1]

[1] Nouwen, Henri. Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. New York: Crossroad, 1994, 188-189.

Easter is hard on pastors

Thom Rainer posted eleven reasons pastors struggle when Easter Sunday comes around.

  1. The day is often overwhelmingly busy.
  2. The pressure to “do stresswell” is increased.
  3. Finding a unique approach to the Easter story is not easy.
  4. Pastors see members they haven’t seen since last Easter.
  5. Pastors see “lostness” come in the door . . . and leave unchanged.
  6. Pastors get a glimpse of what the church could be . . . but typically isn’t.
  7. Pastors often judge their own sermons more critically on Easter.
  8. Pastors brag about Easter attendance.
  9. Attendance expectations may not be met.
  10. Monday morning letdown can follow Easter.
  11. Some pastors have no resurrection joy themselves.

I especially resonate with Reason #2–the pressure to “do well” on Easter Sunday is intense. More people are sitting in our pews on Resurrection Sunday. We think to ourselves, “If I do well, they’ll come back.” We feel compared to other pastors and worry that our performance won’t match up. Even our own faithful members are hoping for an extra-good display of our gifts, especially if they brought friends and family along.

It’s tempting to find our identity in the comments people give us after the service: “Great sermon, pastor! God really spoke through you today, pastor!” Our innate sense of self-importance, our vanity, the expectations of fellow fallen people, and the devil himself conspire to make Easter Sunday anything but a day of gladness and celebration for pastors.

Here are words from God that may help you get through the Easter weekend with joy: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, i will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, ESV).

If you’re reading this and you’re not a pastor, pray for your pastoral team this weekend. You may be unaware of the burdens they are carrying.

Is this your story?

A pastor who will remain nameless sent me this text message:

Can’t tell you how many times I had to get in pulpit when felt like life was crashing around me and when family seemed to be falling apart. I hold on to the passage that in our weakness He is strong.

What lie about pastoral ministry have we bought into that convinces us our value is determined by how well we entertain in the pulpit, how fast our church is growing, how quickly we get our church out of debt, or how many Twitter followers we have?

When did we decide it’s a bad idea for pastors to have really close friends within their church or to be honest about their failures?

Why must a pastor also be a marketing genius, a fundraiser, a scholar, a motivational speaker, a CEO, a social media guru, and a politician to be considered “effective”?

The stress level on ministers of the gospel today is screaming that it’s time we redefine the work of a pastor. Biblically, here’s the definition:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, ESV).

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget, pastor…

imagesWhen you feel the pressure to perform, to succeed, to grow your church…

When fellow leaders tell you they want to see more results…

When the voice inside your head tells you you’re not good enough…

That’s when you must remember:

You’re a minister of the gospel, not the bottom line.

Even Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6).

Just be faithful. Do your part.

Be content to fill a little space, if God be glorified.